Heart attacks pose greater threat to women than men, study finds

MUNICH — When it comes to heart attack prevention tips, you might think that such campaigns are geared towards men. A new study finds, however, that heart attacks pose an even greater threat to women, with female patients far more likely to die within a year of suffering an attack.

Researchers from the Technical University of Munich examined data collected in two previous studies from 4,100 heart attack patients from 1996 through 2005, and found about 3,850 of those patients survived the event. Seventy-four percent of those patients were men, while just 26 percent were women.

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While those numbers fall in line with overall heart attack trends — men account for two-thirds of reported heart attack patients — the researchers were “surprised” to find that women were about 1.5 times more likely to die less than a year after the event.

The authors believe gender roles could potentially be a factor in the finding.

“In everyday life, women often face different expectations after a heart attack than men. They are expected to start ‘functioning’ again sooner, which means that they are subject to bigger stresses,” says cardiologist Georg Schmidt, a co-author of the study, in a university news release.

Still, general health likely played a role too. The researchers noted that the female heart attack patients were typically about 10 years older than their male counterparts and more likely to have suffered from high blood pressure and diabetes. Mental health strain, particularly symptoms of depression, were also considered a factor, though the study did not examine explicitly for such risks.

The authors also say that women suffer “different” heart attacks than men. Female patients were less likely to have had myocardial infarctions because of narrowing blood vessels, but rather because they suffer from coronary artery disease.

Schmidt says the findings show the need for physicians to pay extra attention to female patients in those first 365 days after an attack. He believes the psycho-social factors present a clear danger to a woman’s chances of survival, and clinicians must act the moment symptoms of depression or other conditions crop up.

“Family doctors have to be keenly aware of the social situation of these women and try to provide support. Particularly when there are signs of depression, family doctors need to be especially alert,” he says.  “If such indications are observed, it is important to refer the patients quickly to specialists so that they can start working with a therapist as soon as possible if needed.”

The study’s findings were published last month in the journal PLOS One.


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